Ventura mayor cannot sue Ojai Valley and run to represent us as supervisor

By Jeffrey Starkweather
On Jan. 12, I attended the Democratic Club of Ventura  meeting at which Matt LaVere (Ventura mayor and candidate for Ventura County Supervisor, District 1 which encompasses the entire Ojai Valley) spoke and answered questions about Ventura’s recent legal actions against virtually all Ojai Valley water users. Ojai City Council member Bill Weirick asked LaVere why it was necessary to spend millions of dollars to take legal action against thousands of Ojai Valley water users to resolve the complaint by the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper that Ventura was endangering steel head trout and the ecology of the Ventura River by taking too much water from the river in the summer months.
I was shocked by LaVere’s lame non-answer. He claimed he was not knowledgeable enough about the scientific ecology issues involved and he was not a specialist in water-use law, so he could not say why he voted along with his fellow council members to sign a $1.8 million contract with one of the biggest water specialist law firms in the state to file a cross-defendant action against thousands of Ojai Valley water users. He just followed the lawyers’ advice. He also said he could not disclose what the vote was since it was made in closed executive session. Never mind that California law requires a city council to publicly report any actions taken in closed session once the public meeting resumes again in open session, including how each member voted [Gov. Code § 54957.1.]
LaVere’s answer is unacceptable. He should provide a clear explanation of why Ventura decided to take this action against his future constituents in the Ojai Valley and what specific solutions the Ventura Council seeks. LaVere is, after all, a lawyer. His law firm does real estate law, including nuisance cases, which is the common law basis for all environmental law. In any case, an elected official should not blindly follow the advice of an outside law firm without first understanding the impacts of the law firm’s recommendations.
Moreover, a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper told me the town could have resolved this lawsuit without taking legal action against thousands of upstream Ojai Valley water users. Ventura simply needed to agree to regulations that would prevent city discharges of water below a certain environmentally dangerous level in summer droughts. Ventura could have separately and cooperatively worked with upstream users and federal and state agencies to develop a long-term sustainable water conservation plan. It was Ventura’s choice to instead put a legal gun to our heads to force us into a protracted and expensive formal adjudication process.
To make matters worse, Ventura is actually taking action against an agency that supplies the city with a significant amount of its water. Ventura uses over one-third of the water from Lake Casitas that the Casitas Municipal Water District sells to its customers.
Finally, LaVere should be able to explain to potential Ojai Valley voters what is the purpose of Ventura’s action against Ojai Valley water users and exactly what type of settlement Ventura is seeking.
Before Matt LaVere receives the support of any Ojai Valley voters, he should first provide them a much fuller explanation of his actions in this lawsuit. If he believes he is constrained from doing that because of his position as Ventura mayor, then he should resign his mayoral position so that he can respond fully to the concerns of his potential future Ojai Valley constituents to gain their trust.


— Jeffrey Starkweather of Meiners Oaks is a retired attorney. He is first vice president of the Ojai Valley Democratic Club, but is only writing for himself.